Puppy Biting and Play

By Sally Bradbury

Biting is a normal puppy behaviour. Puppies investigate the world through their mouths. If it’s within reach, it will probably be picked up and chewed! If it is exciting and moves fast, it will definitely get bitten. Dogs play by using their mouths because they don’t have hands.

Puppies need to bite, and they need to play. What he is doing is simply trying to elicit play. Play is by far the best way to bond with your pup and is a great way to reward him while learning, so you don’t really want to tell your puppy you don’t want to play with him.

Don’t get cross. Don’t make noises that may startle or excite him more. Don’t ignore him or use time-outs, as this is time wasted that could be used to teach him how to play appropriately. Don’t just give him a toy to play with. If he’s biting you, it’s because he wants to play with you, not with a toy on his own.

Use tug toys that he can bite; old, knotted towels, or a favourite toy with string attached. Unwanted dressing gown cords are ideal. You need to encourage him to bite one end of the toy, while you hold the other end. You can then have a great game together without getting bitten.

Ensure your tug toys are long enough and soft enough for your puppy to happily bite. Your toy should touch the floor while you are holding the other end. This allows you to animate the toy and keep the game low to the ground, so as not to encourage your pup to jump up. It also puts distance between teeth and hands.

Keep these interactive toys out of your pup’s reach while they are not being played with. It will keep them more novel, which means the pup is more likely to want to bite and play with them when given the opportunity. Plant toys around the house and garden (out of puppy’s reach), so you have them easily accessible. As much as possible, take the game outdoors.

Rotate chew items that you leave on the floor to also keep them interesting.

Do not play with your puppy unless you have a toy for him to grab. Don’t let anyone roughhouse with him or roll about on the floor with him.

Invest in a puppy pen for young pups so that they can be safely confined for short periods, especially if you have children. This also provides a barrier that you can play through with a long tug toy before puppy has learned to bite toys, not body parts.

Start by animating the toy on the floor and saying ‘get it’ every time your pup grabs the toy. You hold on to the toy and let him grab it and shake it. Let go of the toy sometimes so that puppy is encouraged to come back to you to start the game again.

At some point, you can also teach a word for letting go. To do this, you simply stop the game by putting a finger in pup’s collar and keep hold of the toy. Release the pressure on the toy so that it becomes boring. As soon as pup lets go, say ‘thank you’ and immediately invite him to grab it again with a ‘get it’. He will quickly learn to let go when you stop playing for the game to start again. Eventually the word ‘thank you’ (or your word of choice) will become his cue to let go.

Once your pup is getting the idea of the game, then you can start to add in a ‘sit’ and an ‘are you ready’ before the ‘get it’. Before you know it, you have a dog sitting and waiting patiently for the game to start.